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  • Writer's pictureJason DiPane

Dog Whistles Ring Out Loud and Clear To Those In The Know

You've maybe never seen a dog whistle in use. They emit a sound above the range of human hearing but provoke a response from the local canines. Often they bark. Sometimes howl. And then occasionally they will, with the right training, attack. The point is, it's the silently commanded reaction of the dog that's the point.

Enough of animal training, let's talk politics!

The political dog whistle. While most have heard the term and many truly understand it's meaning and purpose, it's in the identifying them that's relevant here. Simply put, dog whistles in politics are coded or subtle uses of words and phrases that have an "understood" meaning while possibly a different literal one. Yet, if you're up on the phraseology and lexicon that specific categories of dog whistles fall into, it strikes the reader or listener as very literal. There are many reasons people use them and it's not just in politics.

Organized crime syndicates, or the mob, will use such codewords for criminal activity or illegal materials in the hopes of secrecy if they're being monitored by law enforcement.

Known dog whistles are commonly used by organized (and not organized) white supremacist groups for reasons similar to organized crime. They also do so to hide behind of a façade of innocence. The neo-Nazi movements in the U.S. and around the world are very fond of these but we do, thanks to groups like ADL and SPLC, have resources to better understand these and other extremist radical hate focused groups.

The ADL or Anti-Defamation League monitors and fights back against anti-Semitism.

Southern Poverty Law Center, known commonly as SPLC, monitors hate groups of all forms but also advocates and supports civil rights actions such as law suits for violations of the same.

Let's look at just a couple of examples of this type of dog whistle.


Seems harmless enough, right? Not in the least. Commonly used on social media and in writings, it actually stands for "HH" because H is the 8th letter of the alphabet and just in case you don't already know and haven't figured it out, it literally stands for "Heil Hitler". The "88" is a common tattoo for neo-Nazis too.


Another seemingly innocuous use of numbers and more frequently the phrase "14 words". It can be written with the Arabic numerals or the word "fourteen" spelled out but the meaning is the same. This high sign between fellow racists is an ethos they share and acknowledge in code. Their belief is this,

"We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children"

It was adapted from phrasing in Hitler's Mein Kampf and shortened for easy memorizing. Then it was shortened to "14 words" to conceal from the unknowing. Today you will see tattoos or social media biographies and hashtags with "14/88" and not just in our country but worldwide. If you ever see these associated with a political candidate or campaign scream the truth loudly to point them out to the unknowing and unsuspecting.

These are but two blatant examples and seldom seen in politics but that doesn't mean there aren't dog whistles used in politics. More specifically, I'm looking at right wing, conservative, Republican politics. Some of these seem innocent enough but just like the examples I've already presented, if you know, you know there's nothing innocent about these.

Where shall we look first? That's complicated because these phrases often overlap with multiple meanings and the time and place of usage is the context to how many of the meanings are intended. Remember that word because "intention" is very much the point of this whole exercise in understanding the tactics of dog whistles.

"America First"

  • A KKK political motto of the early 20th century in anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic campaigns.

  • Current use is no less offensive in that the actual thought behind those two words is "America Only and Only for Americans Like Us." I'm not exaggerating in the least with this.

"Traditional Family Values"

  • Used most frequently since the 1980s.

  • An identity association to what the speaker considers traditional and that's founded in the Christian "nuclear family" of dad, mom and 2.5 children.

  • Used by social conservatives to express opposition to abortion and women's rights, factually complete sex education and science, as well as LGBTQ rights; none of which pose any threat to them or their families. They simply want you to live in their mold.

"Traditional conservative values" is a shadow of "traditional family values".

  • Overlaps "family values" but with the addition of pro-gun activism.

  • Common use in political campaign ads this election year to be certain.

  • Core of conservative politics currently leans heavily into guns and the 2nd Amendment.

  • Seen in the Christmas family photos and campaign "gun giveaways".

"States' rights" may merely sound like a Constitutional issue but it's not.

  • A common anti-desegregation phrase used in the 1950s that mirrored the white-washed history of why the Confederate states seceded and waged war on the Union.

  • Used by former president Richard Nixon as part of the Republican "Southern Strategy" to appeal to white, southern conservatives that were still within the Democratic party.

"Globalist" is one you need to know.

  • Deeply rooted in anti-Semitism.

  • Origins in the early 20th century and the rise of nationalism in Germany and Italy. Disgruntled personalities, unwilling to examine themselves or nation as cause for their woes, chose to paint a picture that Jews controlled all the banking and therefore all of the economy which denied them opportunity. Sorry but untrue doesn't cover it, so pardon my language but their opinion and weaponized hate were pure BULLSHIT. Highly effective, but...

"School choice" isn't new and neither is the inspiration.

  • Started because many public schools, especially inner city ones, were underperforming or outright failing because of tax base funding.

  • When economics and property value influence public school funding, schools aren't funded equally.

  • Often proposed as a veil to hide a real desire to eliminate public education in favor of private and typically religious based for profit schools.

  • Not subject to the same standards as public schools regarding curriculum/administration so say goodbye to full and honest teaching of history and science. Say hello to indoctrination and denial of sex education which can only benefit students when taught well, completely and with age appropriate honesty.

  • Special Note - Those who most often advocate for "school choice" are typically financially comfortable enough to send their kids to private schools and many of them do. This isn't about their kids or yours. It's about ideology.

"Liberal elites" is the current favorite of conservative politics.

  • The least inspired and ignorantly used dog whistle.

  • They mean educated Democrat, specifically coastal university educated and in the user's mind that's bad but where's the downside of well educated elected representatives?

  • Liberal is a mindset and policy approach of fairness and acceptance.

  • Elite is a moniker for the best or at least the much better few.

  • Special Note - Elite is commonly used to describe military special operations troops because their skillset and the demands placed on them are above standard expectations and they typically succeed under those conditions. They also tend to be some of the most educated in uniformed service.

  • The worst of it is there are many prominent conservative voices who use this phrase, EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE IVY LEAGUE EDUCATED THEMSELVES.

"New World Order" is an oldie but a goodie.

  • Rose to prominence in the 1980s and 90s, it was a conspiracy theory that a global collection of "corporate elites" were controlling various nations with the aim of creating one world government that would be an authoritarian system.

  • Inspired by the growth of a global economy and foundation in fundamentalist Christianity end times movements, it was never about reality and only about fear and hatred. Why hatred? Because once again, anti-Semitism is the root in that these theorists believe(d) Jewish industrialists, corporate owners and finance managers were plotting against white Christian families.

"Welfare queens" was an absurd lie but blatantly racist attempt to paint African American single mothers as lazy and anti-family.

"Law and order" was/is used against urban areas with larger African American demographics.

"New York values" is commonly aimed at the concentration of Jewish voters in the Big Apple and it's exurbs and figures into the use of "liberal elites" as well.

"Not like us" is subtle particularly interesting one with a history of use to attack black voters or candidates.

"Critical race theory" while not a true dog whistle, it is used as code for anything that challenges historical perspective with factual telling of history and race relations in our country.

"Agenda" is more a label but still whistles at those listening "They are trying to change you, convert you and force you into a lifestyle."

Without a specific word or phrase, opponents have commonly utilized and continue to do so, former president Obama's full name.

Barack Hussein Obama

What? You don't think that's a dog whistle? You believe that it's simply the name of a highly respected former president? You're both correct and also cravenly wrong at the same time. By using the former president's full name, pundits and politicians were attempting, with much success among supporters, to "other" the man. That name just doesn't sound "Murican" to many ears. Yes we both know that's an absurd conclusion but if the conclusion is reached and leads to affecting thinking, ideals and votes, is it still absurd? This tactic has been and continues to be used with sitting members of Congress as well. Pointing out a difference that a speaker knows the audience finds distasteful, like themselves, is the point.

It's insidious identity politics.

It's quite common.

It's a dog whistle.


Finally we come to a truly simple one, the use of which can be both subtle and "in your face" confrontational.

"Cabal" is linked to insanity the likes of QAnon but don't think the current crop of mainstream conservatives will not use it as a wink and a nod to garner support, donations and votes. There is no innocent or ignorant use of such a word. Users know very well what they are doing and they are doing so willingly.

There are too many to completely list here but know that they are out there and there are resources online to find them and be informed better of the person using them and their intentions and views.

And if you want to see how public health can be used as a dog whistle, read this article.

So that's it. You've got enough under your belt now to understand that when you hear these phrases you should dig into the user to truly evaluate their intent and positions on issues that may sway your vote. It's a world better suited to linguistics and phraseology studies but because it's become so common, everyone has a responsibility to understand these words and phrases fully while using them very carefully.

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